Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Self Harming


I have generally considered that voting, or not voting, during a general election is a matter of joining up the dots, or the significant events, achievements, or failings, or the honourable or less honourable intentions, of those hoping to secure the votes- enough of them- of the collective electorate. One simply has to pay attention to what is being enacted in one's name. Just to pay attention!

When all of this- excepting the actual voting- has been undertaken it might then be considered that it is not worth the effort. I have, at times, wondered if this might not be a valid assessment. Not voting is always an option- no longer mine- but, if one opts not to vote then one should ideally 'actively' determine not vote, rather than just to 'inactively' not bother to vote. That is, do the research first, then decide!

In my experience, those who bother to find out tend not to vote for parties such as the Conservatives, the Brexit Party or the former UKIP Party, here so often reside the lazy and the reactionaries. Those who do tend to 'favour' these parties invariably tend not to have bothered, instead to have permitted the MSM to mark their ballot papers, perhaps to endorse their more unpalatable thoughts.

My observations do not properly extend to the landlords, never the upper echelons of society, so I cannot really entertain such a mindset or speculate on their behalf. They are anyway very much a minority- or two minorities- and some of them may tend to vote accordingly, that is 'in the interests of that minority.' Selfishly and without any longer-term perspective or consideration.

'I doubt I'll be around an awful lot longer, so why should I much care?' I could so lazily surmise. Sit and look around for a while and it is easy to deduce that there are already rather too many people who have defaulted to such a position; less so the 'longevity consideration,' more the aforementioned 'default position.'

But, this would be both foolhardy and selfish- a dereliction of duty- in the extreme. As written above, it is sometimes so very difficult not to currently believe that there are whole swathes of voters who have repeatedly done, and may be about to, yet again, repeat just such an action. Really, all that is required is that these people 'pay full and proper attention!' Perhaps look to the Scandinavian countries, compare and contrast! Find out!

There are, of course, our children and our grandchildren to consider. Or there is the next generation, and the one after that to acknowledge. Even if we are to selfishly disregard all of these people, there is the rest of the living planet to consider. It's a valid question to ask, 'If humanity has voted to end itself in one final brawl at the trough, wouldn't it be better to give the remaining planet half a chance?'

So, permit me to simplify the aforementioned joining up process, just to proffer an example.


1a. There was the banking crisis. On the 15th September 2008 Lehmann Brothers Bank filed for bankruptcy. Their untenable position was brought about through massively increased volumes of speculative banking. Banks had been deregulated to the point of farce. This was maybe the first concrete sign that permitting (encouraging) unregulated greed to become a mainstream practice wasn't without risk. 

1b. Today's political manoeuvrings would strongly seem to imply that there has been a concerted shove, to distract from the greed aspect of this scenario. Thus (or ergo) the then New Labour Government opted to bail out, with huge sums of tax-payers' monies, other banks who had been swept up in this contagion, instead of targeting and penalising the guilty parties.  

2a. There has followed ever since a prolonged period of targeted austerity. In Jun 2010 the Conservative- Liberal Democrat Coalition Government decided to throw up a screen of targeted austerity, so with due adherence to 1b. they repeatedly blamed the monetary crisis upon over-borrowing on the behalf of the general taxpayer, deflecting from targeting the culpable millionaire bankers, who duly escaped the awful consequences of their own actions, and were given free rein to continue with various forms of malpractice.

2b. This action further signalled to the wider business communities that further deregulation of business practices was the preferred course of government action.  

3. Slashing of (unpopular with Conservatives) Public Services. Public Services were targeted, to enable the repayment, it was claimed, of monies that had been squandered through the deregulated speculative practices of some of the UK's more wealthy. School budgets were cut, NHS budgets were slashed, libraries were closed, benefits were slashed, homelessness soared and became normalised, foodbank usage soared, zero-hour contracts multiplied, police numbers were slashed. When 'cutting to the bone' didn't quickly enough satisfy the monetarists the process accelerated with 'hacking into the marrow!'

4. 2013. Boris Johnson, then London Mayor, tells Andrew Dismore to, "Oh, get stuffed!" when the Labour Assembly Member questions the impact of cuts, and further panned cuts, to the London Fire Service. Johnson was claiming, at that time, that his planned cuts would have, "No impact!"

5. 2014. Boris Johnson, London Mayor, cuts the London Fire Service. Johnson closes 10 fire stations and makes 552 London Fire Fighters redundant. 

6. 14th June 2017. Grendel Tower ignites and the resultant fire claims the lives of 72 residents. 

7. Mrs May, UK Prime Minister, fears to, and opts not to, face angry surviving residents. May quickly deploys sleight of hand to deflect blame away from the guilty parties (ref.8a.)

8a. June 2017 Martin Moore-Bick appointed to lead public enquiry... 

8b. 30th October 2019. Moore-Bick scapegoats the London Fire Service. (ref. 4.)

8c. Those who enabled Grenfell Tower to be constructed as a cheap tinder box continue to evade justice and to throw up further unsafe accommodation, or otherwise operate against the better interests of the electorate. (ref. 2b & 5.)

9. Keep paying little attention and expect nothing to change for the better. (ref. opening paragraph)






Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Celebrity Master Stroke!



When I was but a lowly classroom teacher there began a trend- likely it persists today- in 'utilising' those who were seeking promotion. What the 'School Management Team' used to do was to arrange for any member of staff who might be seeking to climb the career ladder to lead one, or even a series of, staff meetings.

Obviously this could almost be seen as routine; it would be of limited benefit if the deputy headteacher was going to be expected to instruct the art coordinator in painting techniquery. Unless that same head was also an art specialist- most unlikely! Far more likely a business-minded type, limited teaching experience necessary! Anyway, subjects such as art and music have long since been marginalised as (almost) private (school) property, as austerity funding has dictated.

But these meetings, targeted for the budding next deputy or departmental head, were different. These meetings were often of a more sensitive- far less educationally valid- nature, for a far more politically expedient reason. Often, or more invariably 'frequently,' these meetings were the ones where 'new initiatives' were going to be introduced to lesser colleagues. That is to say that 'new,' usually 'work-heavy,' initiatives were now more often being introduced by the more lowly ranked members of staff. Initiatives, for example, that required staff to spend ever greater twilight hours in record-keeping, or updating online lessons, or reappraising multiple educational targets for individual children- those initiatives that favoured the 'more of' approach over the 'instead of' approach. Few, if any of which, benefited the children.

This method did several things. Firstly, it (often) tended to subtly distance the targeted member of staff from colleagues and maybe work-friends. Secondly, and probably more intended, what it also did was to initiate those members of staff into the hierarchy of modern business practices. Thirdly, it cemented the concept of division, an idea of the 'us-and-themness' of it all, ties were duly severed, or they were loosened!

Ergo, people sometimes climbed the ladder being sought, but those same people were also often compromised, or initiated into the the idea of greater division!

Now, in modern day Britain- more so than in any other time-remembered Britain- this is rarely questioned. Our MSM would argue than neither should it be! Division grows up and around us like a mighty forest! Perhaps it is intended that it should substitute for the forestry that is being sacrificed to another aspect of this same division? Ironically, this division is currently being exploited in order to drive home yet more hierarchy, in the name of Brexit. A faction of those at the very top paying to misinform- they anyway own so much of the media- the populace into raging, perhaps even rioting, in the 'better' interests of an elite from which they are necessarily excluded. Really, you couldn't make it up!

Most evident in the layering of British (and maybe Western) society is that of the celebrity- celebrity A, B and C lists! I remember, several years back, whilst watching Graham Norton on TV (sorry!), he said something to a guest. He lifted the lid and allowed those prepared to see, a glimpse of another world! I cannot now recall who his guest was, nor can I recall the date- maybe it never happened at all, one could level at me. But, it did!

Mr Norton was speaking with a newly elevated musician or actor- I think the character was a male- and he happened to ask whether the 'celebrity' was enjoying the resulting benefits of said elevation. The celebrity replied that (he) didn't want to lose touch with (his) other life, that (he) wasn't yet comfortable at such elevations, something about nosebleeds maybe. Mr Norton's response was telling, he said, "You will be, you will be!" and he sort of winked or nodded, or smirked. And that was that! On with the interview...

Now, if we watch The Graham Norton Show, we have grown accustomed to his lead-ins, where he warms up the TV audience with a bit of light politics, carefully pre-scripted and moderated so as to hit just the right permissible pseudo-balance between questioning and endorsing, far more endorsing! Often these parts of the show, amongst others, can be particularly cringeworthy! But, I am not here so much to write about Mr Norton.

Celebrity Master Chef
Celebrity Big Brother
Celebrity Island
Celebrity SAS
Married to a Celebrity: The Survival Guide
I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
Celebrity Googlebox
Pointless Celebrities
Celebrity Five Go Barging
Britain's Worst Celebrity Diver
Celebrity Apprentice
The Real Marigold Hotel
Celebrity Master Race?

And, of course, programmes like the Graham Norton Show! There are just so very many of them; more TV stations and yet, curiously, less TV content. More adverts! And some of these are far more sinister than would have been permissible 'way-back-when.'

There are just so many of them, aren't there? Celebrity-based programmes that is. Well, there needs to be, in order to sustain that newly created layer, more 'layers,' within 'our' society. And, much as with the teaching profession, there will be errands to be undertaken. And, with greater elevation comes greater financial gain.

There will be tasks such as the fielding of questions that might seek to undermine the layering process. Characters, perhaps mistakenly thought to be devoid of full thought-process, who will be tasked with dumbing down or bolstering up, entirely dependant upon whence, and from where, the questions are being directed. The Matt Bakers, the Graham Nortons, the Richard Madeleys, the Eamonn Holmes's, more aggressively the Laura Kuenssbergs, the Piers Morgans. The latter character, perhaps, a sign of the growing confidence on the part of a largely hidden system that seeks to perpetuate and grow what is basically uber-inequality.

Moving obliquely, Ray Winston was once a gritty TV/film character, ex-low-grade-boxer, oft portrayed in roles perfectly matched to suit. These days he is more likely to luxuriate in one of any number of multiple homes (or castles), purchased not so much thanks to his acting prowess, far more his blatant disregard for those he is charged with conning into gambling away their earthly possessions. He does not really do much more than to appear as a floating head, fronting 'Bet365.' Our regard for him is dragged low! He cares not, if he ever did. The likelihood seems questionable!

The football pundits and the climbing comedy actors (all male, I think) who elect to front the gambling cartel adverts, aimed at whoever they can access- there is no moral perspective being exercised here- also seem not to care very much. If they do, then this is severely mitigated through their own desire for betterment, or rather financial gain.

But, am I the only person thinking, "Does Brian Blessed (Ladbrokes) really need the cash?" or isn't Kriss Akabusi (also Ladbrokes) supposed to be just a fun-to-be-around ex-athlete-come-commentator? Kiss Akabusi, really, a motivational speaker? "It obviously pays far better than speaking up against the growth in the UK's gambling addictions?" something that one's unlikely to hear Matt Baker utter on the 'One Show.'




Thursday, 26 September 2019

Hate!



The conversation might go something along the lines of, "Would you like something to drink?"

"No thank you, Granddad."

"How much have you had to drink this morning?"

Silence might ensue. My granddaughter is carefully colouring the strange creature she has just drawn.

"What sort of creature is that? It looks very happy!" It has the sort of smile that might easily compromise the upper part of its head.

"It is. It's a unicorndragon!" So, the ears are working, then?

"How much have you had to drink this morning?"

Nothing! Maybe not then?

"Can we go cycling, please Granddad?"

"We can't sensibly go cycling, unless you've had something to eat, can we?"

"Milk, please granddad." All without glancing up from the task in hand.

"And something to eat? Would you like a yoghurt?"

"What flavour are they?" Maybe there is just the merest hint of a suspicious glance?

"Raspberry!"

"I hate raspberry!"

Now, this isn't true. If she's hungry enough she might not even notice a raspberry, smuggled through in the guise of a strawberry yoghurt. It both amuses me... and it doesn't.

'Hate,' not 'hatred' is one of the many throw-away words that children may so easily pick up from all manner of situations- 'basically,' 'literally,' although not yet 'like,' I'm pleased to note. These words might easily be substituted for a more correct choice, or even be used to fill an otherwise blank space in an already adequate sentence.

As I have already admitted, I am amused by such things. But, I do still try to make a point of picking up on the use of the word 'hate.'

"How is it possible to know, if you haven't tried it?" I might venture, about any untasted foodstuff or drink. But there is, of course, a more serious point to be made here.

So, I usually make the time to point out that 'hate' tends towards one of the more unpleasant extremes. "Hate is a very strong feeling!" I might remark. "I doubt that there's anything yet in your life that you've had proper cause to hate."

She might listen. She might ask really pertinent questions, and we might have one of the sort of in depth conversations that tends to stick in the memory and leave me feeling a great pride in her ability to so quickly collate information  Or, she might remind me about her earlier request, regarding cycling. But, we're getting there! Hate is a mighty strong word and a mighty powerful emotion to either feel or to channel! Best to head it off, before it slips seamlessly into adulthood. It hits all the wrong keys!

More so when it is so ruthlessly being channelled by our current Prime Minister, in order to drive a mighty wedge through the heart of British society. Now, he's had the sort of privileged education that will have left him in no doubt as to the damage that channelled hatred may cause, locally, nationally or internationally! The exponential growth in examples of exercised, practised and genuine hatred is already sitting not so proudly at the top of Ms May's shameful legacy. Boris is fast approaching that goal in a tiny fraction of the time! He's clever enough to circumvent the word, but he still choses to channel the sentiment, via the worst of the British MSM!

So, be in no doubt, he and his chums have calculated what they're doing. And, just in case we should be in any way uncertain of their motives, we might consider what trashing the economy might do for those more interested in shorting the pound and bolstering their hedge fund investments. Those who can really afford a privileged education! I seem to recall recently reading that one of this government's Brexit advisors placed a bet of several million pounds, upon the sinking of the economy after the event has been enacted, I might even recall the name, but was unable to re-find the same article, so best not... Curious!  


'Hate' is a word more deserving of challenge than ever before in most of our lifetimes. It's often where it's left unspoken that it hits home hardest. Either that, or else this is just "so much poppycock!"  


Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Noise!



At the very moment of England's victory I had considered that maybe, just maybe, there are those sporting moments when the spoils really do deserve to be shared. But, of course, the game was over and, as the rules stood and were understood by both teams, the victors had been decided, every last ball played in the true spirit of the game. It's sport and sport needs rules, but it is still only sport, a game, it's hardly a matter of life and death! 

Then Simon James Arthur Taufel, formerly of the ICC Elite Umpiring Panel, elected to chip in. Was he perhaps dissatisfied with the decisions of the two on-field and two off-field umpires, the playing ethos of either team; did he believe that he could have presided better? Maybe he had fully digested the whole match and thought that the result should have been reversed? Or maybe his reasoning was otherwise motivated? 

Either way, what he did was unhelpful, it has brought out the worst in some of those who watched and hopefully otherwise enjoyed the marvel that is international cricket. If Simon cares to reflect he will no doubt recall that perhaps the most significant 'recent' change to the rules of cricket- because on the surface this presents as being about the rules- was actually caused by one of his fellow countrymen, then Australian captain Greg Chappell, when on the 1st Feb 1981 he instructed his own brother to bowl the final ball of the Third Final of the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup underarm, in order to prevent New Zealander Brian McKechnie from possibly striking a six to tie the game. This incident was the third in a series of highly questionable on-field incidents during that one game, that resulted in neither of the officiating Australian umpires ever appearing in this capacity again, and the aforementioned rules change being implemented.

Maybe it shouldn't have done so but Simon's Taufel's more recent decision to 'comment' upon the outcome of the Cricket World Cup Final, amongst other things, will have caused some to consider whether perhaps some of his own umpiring decisions, back in the day, were not 'now' motivated by considerations other than achieving a fair and just result. Simon may have kicked the hornets' nest, but he cannot now control where those disturbed and angry creatures may choose to venture. I have neither the patience nor the depth of malice to investigate further.  

More significantly, and more insidiously, what Simon has done is to create unhelpful noise across quite a wide spectrum. That which deflects from England's victory- here referred to as 'low pitched'- is just petty and ultimately it reflects poorly upon himself. Where his decision may be judged to be far more calculated- the 'higher pitched' noise- is that Simon's comment also deflects from a far more serious and justifiable uprising- higher pitched and upon a higher moral ground! 

Simon Taufel, as did many of his countrymen, benefited from the convenience of 'free to air' transmission of the whole tournament and, thus, will have gleaned a greater insight into the World Cup. Unlike the majority of the hosting Brits, Simon will have been able to watch every single ball of England's 'home' semi-final, the one in which they defeated Australia by eight wickets, with 17.5 overs to spare. Further, England achieved this feat having batted second, the position from which victory was throughout the tournament made approximately 30% less likely. No amount of close call decisions could have reversed this one! In Australia, he'd have been able to watch every ball of every game on 'free to air TV,' and why not, it's a World Cup for Heaven's sake!

In celebrating England's tight victory there should, quite rightly, be an element of noise, we have waited long enough! Much of this noise should reflect the wonderful culmination of an often truly spectacular tournament. It should also reflect the great spirit in which the whole event has been played, hopefully also inspiring a new generation of eager participants to the game, rewarding several generations of dedicated, often hardened, fans and players, current, past and future!

But, of course, it wasn't able to do any of those things, not to the full, not in any truly national celebratory manner. Because of Sky TV, and because of the English Cricket Board and the International Cricket Council, and because of the dealings of successive British Governments. Maybe in Australia, maybe in New Zealand, maybe in India and Pakistan, maybe in South Africa and the West Indies, maybe in Bangladesh, maybe in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, maybe in all of these places it was... but not in the UK where the event was being hosted! Because all that the hosting nation of the 2019 Cricket World Cup were afforded was one solitary complete advert-blitzed game! It was reluctantly conceded and in the face of much fierce and justified criticism!

So no, without a doubt we shouldn't be thanking Sky TV, who are looking belatedly to boost subscribers for the upcoming Ashes Series, no doubt, hoping maybe also to deflect from the greed which has already seen far too much of the UK's National Lottery bolstered sport being snaffled by subscription TV. We should instead be making noise- plenty of it and loudly, and publicly - such that this sort of commercial greed should not be permitted to smother this wonderful international event. Otherwise those disingenuous bods at the ICC, the ECB and those currently propping up the UK's government will tinker and otherwise alter the beloved game of cricket, such that it might soon be reduced to nothing more than a glorified game of rounders, beholden always to the mightiest of the gambling cartels, rarely so much as glimpsed upon by those who cannot or will not subscribe to the likes of Sky.

The car boot sell off of the UK may be traceable back to Thatcher- currently residing in a special place in Hell- but since her thankful demise the carpet baggers have become more deft, less brazen, more covert (still hateful!) in their dealings. We may cite Blair's 'closed doors' meeting with Murdoch in '97. Maybe then it was more the Private Financing to death of our precious NHS? Or Hunt's- alarmingly still the lesser of two absolute evils- secret dealings with (again) Murdoch's News Corporation take-over bid for BSkyB in 2012? Quite how did that man avoid a stretch inside- 'insider trading' by any other name- and now possibly 'our' next Prime Minister? Or will it instead be the Mini-Trump, currently residing in the home of one (again) Sky chief executive? But I digress...

In a Commons debate of 11th July 2018, the Government said that it did not plan to reopen the list of events (qualifying for recognition as an 'A listed' sporting event) and that the system was "delivering the best outcomes for the viewing public." Less than a week has passed since England's hard-fought victory in the Cricket World Cup and already, on 'free to air TV' it is as if the event never happened, even the meagre highlights have been wiped! Give it another couple of days and also the 'Test Match Special' evidence will have disappeared from the BBC."I don't believe you, Granddad! Which World Cup is that? It never happened!"

'The sky's the limit!' 'Aim for the sky!' It's a very poor limit, and really we should be aiming far higher than this.

Currently there is much noise, objecting to this state of affairs. Currently Simon's noise is deflecting from this.






Wednesday, 26 June 2019

The English Fielding!


I'm 'sure' that we've all been glued to our TVs, following the England Cricket Team's trials and tribulations during the non-knockout stages of the Home Cricket World Cup. I know that I have. Well, sort of... in so far as it's been possible... but mostly not!

Of course, as many disillusioned fans will already have mourned, and although we are currently in the throes of a home World Cup citing England as the tournament's questionable favourites, one is not permitted to properly watch this international event, unless one subscribes to Sky TV. It barely needs mention that all genuine cricket fans- those currently residing in the UK- should now hold the International Cricket Council and the UK's colluding government in the utmost of contempt for this unprecedented betrayal of the nation's cricket lovers. It takes little imagination to consider quite how the denial of viewing rights to English football fans would be received were this the men's Football World Cup, during either a home or an overseas tournament!

But Sky, and most likely those of the ilk of Jeremy Hunt, have already 'pocketed' the backhanders or otherwise reaped the rewards bestowed by those mighty betting cartels, and cricket viewing is strictly now only available on a pay-to-view basis. That is to write that those responsible for this reprehensible state of affairs have reaped rewards that have thus far been denied to many/most of the rest of the us.



Through one of two probably unavoidable concessions, something to do with this being a home world cup maybe, Channel 4 have been showing highlights in the wee small hours, well after the game's known conclusion, the sort of highlights whereby a strategic-ebbing-and-flowing whole-day contest is reduced to well under an hour's 'play,' the sort whereby well-crafted spin bowling replays are shown from some bizarrely off-set camera angles- invariably not from behind the bowler's arm, the sort that gets away with shaving away approaching 90% of the game?  One might easily be forgiven for considering it entirely impossible to capture even the merest semblance of a feel for the great game under such circumstances.

Of note, and because this is a home world cup, it has also been made possible to listen to ball-by-ball commentary via BBC Radio 5LX. Normally, during home or away Tests or ODIs, even this reluctantly conceded offering is jealously guarded as the wider Sky-cartel's interests (TalkSport) has recently stolen also the rights to this service.



In the unlikely event of England perhaps winning this tournament, will the open-top bus celebrations also be covered exclusively by Sky TV? Or will the then government and the BBC be looking to access the glitz, in order to distract from further and other non-related ongoing national injustices, maybe something to do with Grenfell or Windrush or the numbers of homeless people dying upon our streets? Should the BBC eventually report any related bus-top celebrations maybe whole communities within the capital will be left wondering quite what the blazes is going on!

The wonder is that this sort of theft, because that's effectively what it is, is not being more openly discussed... maybe upon the BBC?

And this is where, unlike the England Team's inconsistent performances to date, the fielding has been truly sublime!  One might even be forgiven for not having noticed the actions of those careful hands, so seamless is their operation.



The BBC Radio 5LX commentary, which continues to be of the very best quality, as many long-term fans will already know, actually offers easily the most practical of all the options. It is anyway often impractical to view the entirety of many games, whereas listening to every ball alongside the ongoing analysis and banter can usually be comfortably worked into and around many of the day's other chores. Longer sessions may be watched, as and when desired, or one may rush to the screen upon the fall of a wicket or another such thrill! In an ideal world the discerning cricket fan should, unless otherwise detained, always have live international cricket on the TV, inferior TV commentary muted, instead ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary keeping said fan fully abreast of the state of play. If it should transpire that there is such a place as heaven then I'm reasonably confident that this state of affairs substitutes a very close approximation. But we do not currently operate a 'heaven on earth' approach in the sporting realms of cricket, do we? Or, for that matter, in any other aspects of life in sunny England!

The days of Henry Blofeld, John Arlott, Christopher Martin-Jenkins and the unsurpassable Brian Johnston may well be behind us and the younger generation of commentators may almost perfectly have stepped up to the plate, but all of this is going to be of precious little benefit if thieving Sky still retains absolute control of the whole damned package! And is there any real concern that this sport may be effectively lost to a generation of fans, or are 'we' all just troughing to the max until it becomes beyond 'feasible' to continue to pretend that the gambling cartels are just there for the benefit of a casual occasional flutter?



As Boycott never tires of reminding us, old Agnew- somewhat of an intergenerational bridge in terms of commentary- was slightly uncomfortable as a test cricketer, strictly a bowler and, in so far as we can judge from his short test career, somewhat lacking in penetration. But since his conversion to commentating his fielding has been quite impeccable! Never a dropped ball! If any lunchtime guest should so much as hint at the lack of international cricket currently being free-to-air-programmed for the general public he will swoop down and field the ball before one has barely noticed it having been played. Snaffled and pocketed... seamlessly. And, in so far as his own conscience is concerned, well, there we have that old 'lack of penetration' again coming to the fore. Politely he will not commit to comment, politely he will evade the subject. A tidy fielder, uncontroversial! Jonathan may prepare a delightful afterthought upon the day's play, in the form of a podcast, but this is really of little more value than tomorrow's newspapers.

Branching out somewhat, into the outfield, those old enough to remember will perhaps recall that many faces and voices dotted far-and-wide across the current BBC (and beyond) were formerly Tory MPs. They may present or co-present all manner of interesting programmes, and a few more questionable ones ('Anne Widdecombe Versus,' ITV), or perhaps appear in the highly dubious role of 'celebrity.' There is Michael Portillo, there is Matthew Parris, there is Giles Brandreth, there is Anne Widdecombe, there is Neil and especially Christine Hamilton, there is Edwina Curry, there would be a great many more if so many of them hadn't been sent to the House of Lords in order to sleep it off on a generous expenses account. And then there is Andrew Neil (host of 'The Daily Politics' BBC2) and George Osborne (editor of the Evening Standard) and Piers Morgan (host of 'Good Morning Britain' ITV1), partiality spread thick and far! Miles Jupp (host of the 'News Quiz,' BBC R4) was quietly doing a more than passable job at deep square, before a slight tear of maybe conscience brought about a sudden and unexpected period of convalescence. Several of them perhaps mediocre or even passable amateur cricketers in their time, but all now given essentially to the darker art of fielding.



It is truly surprising that England do not win more of these international affairs, so packed is the in-and-outfield with these characters.

John Humphrys (BBC) has been fielding point since the early 1980s, Laura Kuenssberg (BBC) recently brought in to the slip cordon alongside Andrew Marr (BBC). These high-profile characters, key positions, are likely to take the majority of the catches, but credit also please to those who tidy up along the boundary ropes, the Matt Bakers (BBC), the Graeme Nortons (BBC), I would 'say' irrepressible but they're not, are they? Tidy fielders, but otherwise thoroughly repressible.

Yet, rather like one is beginning to wonder if the England Cricket Team have not been slightly overrated, do we think that even the packed outfield of the current English Political Game will ever be quite enough to undertake the immense challenge that lies ahead? Just a hint of the immensity of which was shared with us just the other day ('Our Next Prime Minister' BBC2), woefully patching that huge gap left through the absence of cricket- one would imagine that the remainder will have to be plugged by property programmes, game shows and maybe cookery programmes, reality TV? There it was, the televised debate of the Tory 'hopefuls!' Quite why the whole nation was being foisted with this when barely 70,000 bigots may bother to declare a 'preference,' but there we have it.



We listened to and we watched the Tory leadership contenders trying to dig themselves out- a sticky wicket, another monumental batting collapse- who will be able to place the greater distance between himself and the policies of the last two decades? How will Windrush be dealt with, what about Grenfell, the rise in poverty, the rise in food-bank usage, homelessness, slum landlords, rising hate-crime, inequality, the environment, plastic pollution, the decimation of our wildlife populations, education funding, the covert privatisation of the NHS? Well, it was almost as if none of these chancers had been present throughout those twenty years. Old captain May, watching the 'car-crash' from the pavilion, worrying about her legacy- she needn't, it's pretty much etched in stone (numerous headstones)! "Elect me and I will build a heaven upon this Earth, whereupon all of my children shall thrive." "Sometimes tax-cuts (for the more affluent) actually create wealth," even here Sajid Javid was out of his depth?

And we put them in yet again? We're going to need to pack that outfield!



Friday, 15 February 2019

Asleep at Post!


The more senior residents of the UK may recall that there were many butts for the nation's darker humour, way back in the nineteen-seventies. With an element of good fortune, and maybe the odd guardian (angel) in an important or influential position, many of those selfsame butts were able to battle onwards and survive well into the nineteen-eighties.

Here in the nineteenth year of the 'new' millennium there is less room for the (older) butt jokes. Moreover, those 'easy' targets have long been assimilated, or dissolved, or smashed, or otherwise discontinued. Mostly they have been assimilated, but rather like a kidnap-victim in a second-rate TV drama, the identity may have been altered, maybe almost beyond recognition, perhaps beyond salvation, or so we are frequently encouraged to (mis)believe.

A particular item for scorn in the 'newspaper' of my parents- The Daily Mail- was British Rail. My, how the Daily Mail hated British Rail. Daily, the Daily Mail lambasted British Rail! And, because the reporting of this national 'failure' was being reported in a 'newspaper,' the 'failure' of British Rail was assimilated into common parlance and oft repeated as a national fact.

My parents had 'standards,' so the hatred of The Sun (even pre-Murdoch), for example, for British Rail was unknown... but assumed, as it was with many of our other national newspapers.

Today there are many rail companies to ridicule. The scathing commentary has not stopped, despite the Daily Mail's goal of privatisation having been 'fully' met! But, the railways are now far, far worse than ever they were in the nineteen-seventies, late, overcrowded, and prohibitively expensive!

But, this post is not about trains and their peculiar ailments, it is about another butt, the Post Office.


In all truth, I'm not entirely sure that the Daily Mail's hatred for the Post Office was ever that obvious in the nineteen-seventies. I'm not even sure that the Post Office was yet in its cross-hairs. I am sure that the Daily Mail's currency was still largely in the 'coinage' of hatred. I think that it was a far more overtly racist paper back then, with its sights upon other, more 'urgent,' targets!

The type of racism spewed by the Daily Mail, these days, is that of an altogether more 'inclusive' breed. Invariably such dilutions as this may even weaken the bloodline, and yet the Daily Mail still fights its corner with such rabidity that it now, often I find, resembles nothing quite so much as some sort of aggressive societal cancer. Aspirations, aspirations...  

My first serious recollection of a growing disdain for the Post Office was in the nineteen-eighties, under the inglorious reign of Thatcher. Although the beast that was Thatcher always maintained that she would not ever sanction any physical attack upon the Post Office. She mustered her most superior and tutored enunciation to utter something about "the queen's head," being safe whilst she (Thatcher) was in charge.

But, despite its adoration of the woman, the Daily Mail still doggedly disliked the Post Office. And, being the Daily Mail, it undoubtedly stoked and encouraged this dislike to fester into a hatred! A more familiar currency!


Late deliveries, especially during the Christmas rush, were frequently being cited as reasons to 'modify,' break up, alter, but really to privatise! First class did not ever deliver first class, we were oft reminded. So the Daily Mail's 'desired' process was duly brought to the fore! As was and is the habit within ostensibly rightward-leaning nations yet another appeasement of the politically right was duly put into place.

Like a gigantic cake, the old Post Office was meticulously sliced into ever smaller segments. It's easy, sometimes, to forget that the 'old' Post Office used to cover virtually all postal services and all telecommunications services before 1969.

I think that the more financially-attractive telephone service was the first thing to go. Now we have many 'service providers,' few of whom appears to be able to hold up a (virtual) certificate of 'commendable,' or even 'reliable,' 'service' for more than a few months. Costs in general, particularly those of land-lines, have gone upwards, yet the Daily Mail's agenda has once again been fully realised! The now seriously modified British Telecom is no longer just a service, it is now a corporation, 'service' having been assigned a more 'suitable' place further down the queue.


As (Murdoch's) Sky has done with its 'own' TV 'services,' the Post Office has been looked at and reappraised, again and again... the cake has been rearranged and repositioned upon the plate, but the ultimate goal has consistently been to slice any offering yet thinner and thinner!

Now there are many, many courier services, none of whom are really any cheaper than the Post Office once was. Certainly, none of these are able to provide quite the cover that the Post Office previously managed!

Disingenuous rag that it is, the Daily Mail is most cunning at making its agenda read like it is actually 'our' agenda. The disdain that it felt for the Post Office was, in fact, never even disdain. What it was, instead, was an agenda that was disguised as disdain- a hidden agenda, if you like.

Now, I am actually something of a fan of the Post Office, although this 'appreciation' is, like other aspects of the Post Office, daily being reduced further and further. Really, it is more the concept of an earlier model, of which I am a fan. But even as a wavering fan, I would have to contest that, should you wish to acquire a stamp in the city of Norwich, the very last place from which you would wish to do so would be the Post Office. Quite likely, this is true of many Post Offices- those that have been tampered with- in many large towns or cities... those still fortunate enough to still have a Post Office!

Firstly there will be interminable queues- this much, in cities, has not changed, perhaps merely extended- then there will be an almost draconian refusal to allow you to pay in coinage, over a counter to a person with a face, unless one particularly savours the British queue. Unlike other automations that employed by the Post Office appears, first and foremost, to have been (re)designed to frustrate. How you will wish you had found a friendly face in a corner shop, or remembered to pick up that book of stamps whilst still at the supermarket. It is really one of life's many ironies that just as 'our' government are clamouring to shut as many Post Offices as they can get away with, so the nation is once again growing to value those formerly untampered-with lost services?

Still, even here, actively being (mis)organised deliberately to fail, we find that the Post Office remains, in one highly significant respect, far superior to the competition!

Imperfect as it undoubtedly is, the Post Office's parcel and letter service remains as good as or superior to much (all?) of the competition. How it must goad at the Daily Mail's ideology, for this still to be the case! But hatred, like that perpetuated by the likes of the Daily Mail, has these days to be spread ever thinner- there is just so much for 'them' to despise, and so few pages upon which to do so. The old war horse, Paul Dacre- his unshackled contempt for humanity was damaging even to the Tories- has been given to pasture. Dare we hope that his is not to be a pleasant retirement?


Austerity, when it arrived, was rather like manna from heaven to a party of multimillionaires and industrial-scale landlordly types. It offered itself like one immense screen, behind which everything public might finally be carted off to the great car-boot sale in the sky, that which had actually survived thus far... the likes of the Post Office!

Money that was desperately being diverted to prop up failing (but now private) rail companies, for example, was being hacked raggedly away from the public bone. Curiously, the sums now available to repeatedly (and shockingly) failing rail companies are far in excess of anything that was ever deemed imaginable in the days of British Rail. We know what the Daily Mail thinks, or presents as thinking, but does the Daily Mail?

In the scrabble to reduce and to minimise Post Offices presented themselves much like sacrificial lambs, their purposeful buildings were vacated and alternative-skeletal-services were transferred to salvaged old school desks, hastily set up in the darker corners of supermarkets and other shops- WH Smith in Norwich, for example- the Post Office took another round to the flanks!

Hundreds of wonderfully and purposefully constructed community-serving buildings were opened up to the free market! Or else were boarded up and left to gather dust and longing looks from an older generation of locals. If one finds oneself living away from the far larger conurbations, one's 'local' Post Office (local Crown Post Office- note the distinction!) may be as far as a dozen miles away, a twenty-plus miles round trip! The language has changed, and the word 'local' has mutated. Seriously ironic, we might consider, given the state of our rural public transport.

As the markets are being continually 'opened up' to governmental friends in the city, and other playboy types, 'investors' are ever hoping to cash in! Of course, and given the manner in which failing businesses are able repeatedly to shovel cash into the bank-balances of culpable CEOs and major share-holders, those types seriously do cash in! But the courier 'services' that are springing up are all based upon the 'cutting corners, getting rich quick' models of current UK business practise. Investment, in any real sense, is merely a catch phrase, to be wheeled out, time and time again, should a wider public notice how shoddily the 'service' is performing. The proof as ever is in the eating!

When my family used to live in Aylsham there was a wonderful and ever-busy Post Office, until austerity saw fit to squash this into the nearest supermarket and to relocate parcel storage facilities some twelve miles away. Competition courier service, Hermes- is that contagious?- used to quietly slip their, 'sorry you were out,' notes through letterboxes and then run away! So tight was the timetable of the poor courier that he (or she) didn't even have time to knock on a door and to wait for a less-than-instant reply. Once or twice, I caught up with the embarrassed chap and challenged his efforts but, really, it wasn't his efforts, was it?

Other courier services left things in the refuse bin at the rear of the property, justified via a hastily scrawled card dropped upon the doormat. Had they in fact checked that bins were not to be emptied later that day, or before the parcel was to be retrieved? Of course they hadn't, how could they? Presumably, the companies deal with the flak resulting from binned valuables in much the same manner as all modern day complaints procedures... that is without serious concern, and via an automated 'answer service!'

Now that my family lives in a city apartment, the question often asked of us is, "Is there anyone we can leave it with, if you are out?" The follow up is invariably, "Is there anywhere safe we can leave it?" We live in an apartment on the fourth floor of an apartment block to which 'non-residents' will only be permitted access at certain times in the mornings. "Is there anywhere safe that you, Mr Courier, could store it?" might be a not unreasonable response.

At our home in Norwich we are expected to suffer couriers like Yodel, who will not so much as deign to buzz an occupied apartment, instead preferring to jettison a card with the message, "Sorry I missed you when I came to deliver." "Except you didn't, did you?" I often hope to confront the runner with. Have the couriers now become quite this time poor? Surely this behaviour is the modern city equivalent to refusing to make a delivery because a front door has not been left ajar... just in case. What then is really their purpose?

When the Post Office delivery service was operating at an optimum- never quite optimum enough for the Daily Mail- letters and parcels were regularly delivered at a fairly punctual, probably earlyish morning, time, maybe there was even a second delivery? Should any person awaiting delivery of a sizable parcel be out there was a thorough network of purpose-built Post Office premises where an undeliverable item might be stored... locally!

Fast forward to the present, where we had a recent delivery by the courier service Yodel; it was left on the doorstep of the apartment block, effectively almost upon the street. Whilst entering the building, I  distractedly picked up two irresponsibly left parcels, I had assumed on behalf of one of my many neighbours, and was amazed to discover that they were both addressed me. Pure chance! The items could instead have been taken by anyone! Probability would suggest that it is most unlikely that I was the first resident to make such a finding.

It cannot be considered the fault of those who live in apartments if the courier service has cut its options to the bone, can it? Although my family unit is not in quite this boat, there are many who have been forced into this lifestyle (it is not always a choice), through also a long-long-list of nationally inadequate housing policies.

To whom could such a woeful courier service, as that provided by these companies, be of any real satisfactory and ongoing use? As a nation we should give the issue much serious thought!

Well, I would imagine that Mr Dacre could afford to employ staff for the sole purpose of receiving random post items, as could the Daily Mail's offices, as could many households as occupied by the current members of our majesty's government, as could the offices of all the larger corporations, and almost all of the smaller ones, although not necessarily all small businesses. The likes of Messrs Bransom and Sugar are all equipped with fully staffed and functioning receptions. For these types there is always someone at said reception to receive that parcel.

These groups and people often now operate within a hermetically-sealed bubble of comfort, a sort of financial privilege, whereby they are always afforded public platform in order to convey their distaste for that which is daily foisted upon the rest of the country. In example, I know that Mr Sugar strongly dislikes, answer-phones, as Mr Bransom dislikes arriving late, and yet should one try getting through to any of Mr Sugar's companies via a telephone there will be found an array of prerecorded messages, before one is to be unceremoniously dumped at the wrong end of a considerable waiting line of similarly frustrated callers. Indeed such, often, is many of the larger corporations distaste for accessible telephones- but only ever for the service of other people- that they may well have either removed, or effectively buried, the merest mention of a serviceable telephone number. Just try phoning Apple!

Half-hatched and likely legally questionable, I think that there is a suitable response to the afore-outlined type of corner-cutting by courier 'services.'

Had I, for example, always opted to deny all knowledge of receipt of any or all of my more ad hock deliveries then I should imagine that I could have benefited easily to the sum (or equivalent) of several hundred pounds- parcels that may have been collected by refuse trucks, parcels that may well have been randomly picked up off the doorstep- perhaps more besides! Imagine projecting this idea outwards, over the length and breadth of the country. It is, I am led to believe, the company from whom the item has been purchased that is financially liable... what happens if collectively we make undertaking a claim every bit as routine as the pertinent courier service makes abandoning our parcels? They absolutely cannot be certain that unsigned for items have ever arrived... so maybe we could try treating these half-cocked 'deliveries' as if they haven't?


The flaw in my plan perhaps currently lies in the necessary organisation of such a movement. There within the coordination sits the implicit proof of intent, never mind the incompetence of the companies and the courier services that they choose to employ.

Maybe the very best, yet impossible, answer to the issue of the lost Post Office services lies in a virtual national journey back to the (values of the) nineteen-seventies, those times of a more-embryonic hatred employed by the Daily Mail. Seventies housing and seventies British Rail, the bad old days? If only there were some way that we in the UK could turn back the clock...

As we currently stand, and specifically with regards to the delivery of parcels and packages, we appear to have deregulated ourselves into a system whereby courier 'services may regard certain household deliveries as effectively a zero-hour arrangement- "We will attempt to deliver the items for which you have already paid a delivery surcharge sometime on the following Tuesday, between the hours of 08:00 and 21:00. Please feel free to cancel all other commitments for the stipulated day!"

There was a time, somewhat brutal, when falling asleep at one's post was punishable through execution by firing squad, with innumerable repercussions beyond imaginable! So, who's been asleep at their post this time and, more worryingly, who's been sneaking around whilst this has been going on?

We might like to delude ourselves that 'our' ministers are all too often figuratively asleep at their posts, but the reality is far, far worse than this. They have collectively and all-too-consciously ushered in an era of plastic suffocation, hastened an ecological holocaust, and enabled a global hierarchy whereby much of global commerce is driven at the behest of merely a 'handful' of teflon-coated-multibillionaires.

We were right to have felt betrayed by our parent's generation, much as our grandchildren's generation might rightly point a deservingly accusing finger at our generation. Perhaps The Post Office has just been swept up with the current.

Congratulations and 'God's' speed to all of those striking school children who are already pointing an accusing finger. May they fair far better than did we!




Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Notes on Chengdu 1992.


          Raining! 
          An unrelenting sheet of leaden grey unburdens itself upon the insomnious city. Streets shimmer and spit. Pools of dimpled rainwater invert buildings, enhance their vertical aspirations, thrusting deeply into the cloud. Decay leaks from the city's pores. The diminishing purr of a sleepy engine dissolves inside the murk. 
          At 18:00 the daylight is fast contracting, draining into a bleeding sky. Shop windows of garish hue burn into the gloom. Sandalled feet slip slop past, shattering the subterranean world. Colours vie for attention, screaming credentials to the scuttling few.
         Hidden from view, in the deeper recesses of an empty restaurant, raised voices spar for ascendancy. Stark strip-lighting bleaches the timeworn stains from Formica tables and attentive chairs. A crumpled brown paper bag lies empty upon the floor, the footsteps of patrons-past captured in the meandering street-dirt patterns at the threshold. In a corner a skeletal kitten skulks at an unseen titbit. 
          A solitary craning lamp cracks reluctantly to life, throwing the far end of the street into stark relief. Another fizzing vigil begins. 
          Rain beaded cables sway above the street, clicking and clacking in the restless breeze, sparking an unscheduled light-show. Rain darkened awnings accumulate watery fringes. 
          A labyrinth of metallic geometry lurks in the shadows, an army of bikes chained into submission for the night, greasy rain coating the cold framework. 
          The hissing progress of a lonely trishaw traces three lines upon a quicksilver road. Sinewy legs resolutely pump at creaking pedals, threading a secret pathway deep into the back streets of Chengdu, forced suddenly into the riverine gutter, as the immaculate form of a midnight blue and white Sunbeam Rapier asserts its presence. 
          A face fleetingly illuminated in the glowing halo of a cigarette. The incongruous vehicle accelerates past, bloody taillights glowing defiantly, leaving the trishaw to continue upon its solitary journey.   


River Li
          The blackened wood has been pitted and scarred through the trials of domesticity. A threshold flickers with the warmth of an imagined open fire, cadmium patterns lick and caress the dark interior. Towering shadows tug weakly at earthly tetherings. A rusted wire mesh covers a single, diminutive, rectangular opening that may once have served as a window to another place. Beyond is pitch darkness.
          Towering ivory candles stand sentinel. Flaming sheets lazily flap and caress the perfumed air. Unfamiliar odours infuse the subdued space, saturated to a point of flavour, bitter, spiced, sweet, enveloping, intoxicating... ethereal. The air is heavy with the past. 
          Stepping inside is akin to stepping into another age, another world. This is a timeless place of cluttered alcoves and shadow-cloaked irregular roof voids, criss-crossed with intricately interwoven beams.
          At the room's centre sits a compact and blackened pot-bellied stove. On top of which lies a broken clay pipe, yet it is elegantly arranged upon a blue paper napkin. The stove is not alight. Its three dragon-clawed feet rest within a rounded, time-worn depression. A rickety chimney snakes from the stove's rear, to disappear amongst the cavernous spaces, somewhere behind the highest of the shadows.
          The floor, hard and baked dry, curiously still smells powerfully earthy. A plethora of greyed cushions, punctuated by three low stalls, appears to have been hastily arranged before the stove. There is a small split-bamboo mat tight in front of the oven, incongruous in the setting, too new and fresh for these surroundings, loud and discordant colours. Animal hides have been strewn randomly, perhaps to soften the naked earth. It is  impossible to concentrate upon any one aspect of this space for fear of overlooking something more wondrous. 


          Tumbling hanks of shimmering silk droop from the rafters. A rambling, open-weave fishing net loops, serpent-like, across several fiercely unforgiving meat hooks. Pockmarked corks dangle at head height. In one corner of the room a full-length mirror rests awkwardly and at an impossible angle, black-pitted spots have besieged the edges. Despite the mirror's doubtless age the reflected world within appears somehow brighter, cosier, more intimate. On either side of the mirror two elaborately carved lanterns radiate a warmth, the source concealed behind a fine mesh of deepest scarlet. Stacked organically, upon outrageously bowing shelves, a veritable crystal maze of glass vessels has accumulated not a spec of dust, contrary to such an inaccessible location. Rippled in a manner suggestive of age, slightly turquoised at edges and bases, the transparent surfaces glimmer and sparkle with an otherworldly presence. 
          The pitiful face of an Asian Black Bear, inexpertly contorted into an excuse for a snarl, looms, long-since-abandoned, above a dust-infused body. Cradled between its static paws rests the rusted jaws of a crippling leg-hold trap that may once have unforgivingly gnawed at the unfortunate victim's femur during its final few hours of life. And, as eyes adjust to the darkness, so further victims of the taxidermist reveal themselves. A ghostly Great White Egret stands, majestically and statuesque, as in life, patiently awaiting a never to be tasted next meal, a Beech Marten glassily eyes a distracted Red-bellied Tree Squirrel, the head of a small tusked deer peers from behind an embroidered screen that depicts the ponderous path of China's Great Wall.
          A chest of drawers, darkly suggestive of rosewood, patently far too large to have entered the space intact, stands tall as any wardrobe, a single open drawer home to a case of violated butterflies, colours now tired and faded. Still recognisable, are the splayed wings of Paris Peacocks, Five-bar Swordtails, and a solitary Blue Jay, one of whose wings lies shattered and quite devoid of detail. 
          The ponderous escapement of a large brass timepiece serves to remind any occupant that the space is not, as it first appears, frozen in the moment. Its ragged mechanism creaks a beat like the heart of the room, a room that in all other respects remains virtually silent. The single black hand, set upon an elaborately decorated wooden disc, communicates as if in some long-since-forgotten currency. From the machine's weighty iron frame hang the twisted husks of several bunches of mummified flowers, petals and leaves shrivelled into scorched invertebrate shapes. 
          Subjugated through the piled-on odours of memory, there is just the merest imagining of freshly cut wood, sharp and raw with sap, the most likely source being three exquisitely turned cylindrical teak cages, tiered Russian dolls, dangling from a lower beam. The doors to the smaller cages yawn with a delectable emptiness. Cramped within the largest rests another of the taxidermist's corpses, this the ashy cask of an Oriental Scops Owl. A single glass eye peers longingly towards the doorway and a chance of freedom that has long since expired.
          Three figures linger at the threshold. The two Westerners are in awe of this magical place, so their Chinese companion respectfully awaits their acclimatisation. When he senses that they are ready the host welcomes them with a whispered word, "Please," before politely ushering them inside. The glass eye of the owl stares fixedly towards the visitors. 
          The air shimmers with silver, as if the group may have disturbed a finely woven veil. A nictitating membrane subliminally slides across an olive iris, before a lid is softly lowered. The space crackles with electricity. 


*   *   *    

          Within this place there is no way of knowing whether the tempest has yet subsided. A heavy curtain has been drawn across the threshold, as if in statement. The stove is now gently shimmering, a brace of logs pulsing with the orangey glow of a fire in slow decline. Cushions have migrated closer to the focal point, the atmosphere more intimate. Shadows have deepened and warmed, causing much of the room's contents to have retreated into a miasmic darkness, pursuing yet never quite achieving the absoluteness of black. All bar the two weightiest candles have been snuffed.
          Three companions sit cross-legged, facing one another. At the centre lies a soft leather pouch. It has been carefully unrolled onto a greying and threadbare towel, to ensure that none of the contents is to be wasted- dried flakes of crispy plant matter, but mostly buds, that are identical in texture and spiced aroma to the brittle flowers that droop lifelessly from the timepiece.
          Practised hands that are entirely the hue of ancient stained parchment pluck a few of the larger buds from the mass, to crumble and to sprinkle along a length of pre-prepared tobacco. Brownish pearls, not unlike caramelised sugar, nestle amongst the vegetation. Several of these are meticulously added to the recipe, before the mixture is lovingly rolled into a substantial joint.
          Wrinkled lips part, barely enough to permit a pink tongue to moisten and to seal the item. An end is then twisted closed, prior to a pre-torn section of greenish card being rolled to a fine straw-like cylinder, no more than two centimetres in length. This is delicately, almost surgically, inserted into the open end of the creation, which is then lowered reverentially onto the edge of the pouch. 
          Lips part again, smiling thinly to reveal a cluster of yellowed teeth. A dying log sinks into a bed of its own ashes. Bursts of glittering orange stars escape, to be swiftly vacuumed away into darkness.
          "Now... " Softly spoken, so comforting as to be almost disconcerting. So quiet as to be virtually silent.

The Great Wall.

          Nausea has subsided. Time has slipped anchor. Smokey ribbons of softest cobalt blue weave wondrous patterns into the grainy air, spiralling eternally into the void, or else warping and wefting inside the mind an alternate consciousness, usurping lesser cousins. Eyes of tenuous focus struggle to settle upon proffered physical presence. Smoky fingers curl and contract, entirely like a gathering hand. 
          Copious quantities of a sweet tea-like liquid have helped to quell a rising panic, fighting back a heady rush that will still surely accompany the most fleeting thought of closing the eyes.
          As the suffocating vertigo relinquishes its grip so a calmer, more welcoming sensation, presses home. Warmth rises through the legs, spreading into the groin. Hands, which still function perfectly, perhaps overly precise, are watched with fascination; despite an assumed attachment they seem small and confusingly distant. Every tiny movement resonates with a life of its own, is viewed from a great height. Every minute detail is crisp, dazzlingly sharp and over-real. 
          There is gentle undulation. Through a curtain of crystal perfection the walls are moving, as if separated via a layer of surely purest water. The viewer puffs his cheeks and blows at the substance and so the scene dances its response, ballooning benignly forwards, elastically retracting, distorting everything accordingly. Maybe it is water, the likelihood seems entirely plausible- except that the barrier stands vertically. It matters not. 
          A smile ruptures the spongy air, assuming independent form, a deep rose red with pulsing petals that curl back upon themselves to reveal fresher and fleshier growths. Red bleeds into the air, it rolls like a tide. It sounds wet, then alive, then tender, finally subsiding into discordant laughter. 
          The visitor recognises the sound of his own mirth; it focuses him. He watches on as it explores the towering emptiness of the roof void. Cocooned within the resonance he feels safe and weightless. Sound may now be observed and imagery now tasted. He listens. He can hear dust motes dancing upon the air.
          From far below, as if peering from the bottom of a deep well, two diminutive figures gaze up in narcotised enthralment. One of them raises an arm, extends an index finger. A point of aquamarine light spreads like a ripple upon a pond, is usurped by a fresher, brighter, ripple, and then another. Each circle of illumination presses through the air towards the observer, enfolding him within a tunnel of breathing colour. Recognising that one of his colleagues is talking to him he leans towards the source, and so loses his balance and tumbles- gossamer upon the breeze- to the ground far below. Like a plume of candy floss, virtually weightless, he is gathered in and returned to the bed of cushions. 
          His companions have nurtured some sort of sapling from the ground between them. One is freely conversing with the form. The tree responds in a sensuous manner, writhing and attempting to encircle the speaker. At its base a glossy black gem of a beetle slowly rotates its body through a complete spectrum.
          Silver bells silently erupt in the darkness, each tiny fragment becoming a thousand more, which in turn become a thousand more, until the room is filled to capacity and beyond with diamond made yet more radiant. The light is so bright that it is almost painful, causes eyes to water. Or maybe he is crying. Every shadow, every object, every minuscule detail of every object, is reflected an infinite number of times. Wherever the visitor rests his eyes he can see every tiny feature, replicated countless times. He smiles at the unrealised prospects therein.
          The tree has mutated into the form of a candlestick phone, now softly ringing. It is handed towards him, and as it is so a million, million silver stars are slowly drawn inwards- those to alight upon the watery barrier float and bob, are rolled towards the darker spaces that wait above, obsidian, almost- as if ripples upon an ocean, until the changing object, so recently a phone, radiates a living light that is both disdainful whilst at the same time eminently pleasing to behold. He can taste a tide of resonance surging through everything, buzzing with familiar life, replicated beyond comprehension. It is curiously comforting. As he reaches for the offering so the visitor recognises a charge that sensitises the tips of his fingers. He places the receiver at his ear, pulls the transmitter towards his lips and watches, and listens, and smells something metallic, or is it perhaps a taste? 
          He is vaguely aware that another smoke is being prepared for. He can hear fine fragments of leaf nestling into the paper. He is aware also of a persistent tapping, neither close nor discernibly distant, he is unsure whether it is a colour or perhaps it is an odour? Perhaps it is an emotion?
          No longer recognising his own name, he turns towards his companions for clarification, and gazes in wonder as a familiar face recedes ever further within the mirrored image of the room, backing purposefully from sight and from this world. 
          An eruption of feathers shatters the moment. Wings clap, shedding dusty down to float before his face, heart thumping, breath racing away from him. There is a single dazzling flash of golden light, a contraction, a swallowing. 
          A scrawled note offers scant consolation for a misplaced companion. It is ragged and inert, lying quietly beside a dog-eared copy of Bruce Chatwin's 'Songlines.' The smile is intoxicating! He needs to sleep.